Tuesday evening marked a very special occasion for me, on an intensely personal level. I was privileged to lead my congregation in the recitation of Kol Nidreh, which is said at the beginning of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
It was more than 20 years ago that I first started leading services on the High Holy Days, first at a synagogue in Staten Island, then in Wesley Hills, NY, Buffalo, NY, and then for a few years, as a paid position in Baltimore and, finally, in Israel. The last time I was able to do so was in the fall of 2010, one year prior to my diagnosis, as in 2011 I was too ill – although I didn’t know why – to participate.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to this year, but thankfully I was feeling strong enough and, at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, I took my place on the bimah, the elevated platform toward the middle of the synagogue, as two Torah scrolls were brought out and held on either side of me.
There are several variations of Kol Nidreh, and all are simply annulments of vows. All formulations refer to vows we may make in the coming year, while others refer first to vows made over the previous year, as well as those in the coming 12 months. In our synagogue we say the latter.
Singing those words – “From Yom Kippur past to this Yom Kippur, and from this Yom Kippur to the next Yom Kippur, which should come to us for the good” – was when I was first overcome with emotion. Then, again, emotion was running strong at the conclusion of the Kol Nidreh, when we recite a blessing of thanks for being able to reach this milestone.
In an instant I was caught between two distinct yet powerful feelings.
On the one hand, I thought about everything that has happened, not only in the past 12 months, but really over the past five years since I was last able to participate in leading services. The gratitude I had was overwhelming. Five years is a milestone when it comes to cancer. In no way am I cured or close to it. But, I was able to do something I haven’t done in years.
On the other hand, I thought about the coming 12 months. In the best of circumstances, we have no way of knowing what will happen in the future, near or far. But I couldn’t help but feel hopeful as I stood in representation of the congregation, strong enough at least for the moment, to lead them in prayer.
Gratitude and hope are two emotions that, I think, play off one another quite nicely. You certainly don’t need one to have the other, but experienced together the result is exponentially sweet and a wonderful way to start off the New Year.